From Workers Solidarity, magazine of the Workers Solidarity Federation, volume 5, number 1, second quarter 1999. Complete PDF is here
RUSSIA – WORKERS SIEZE & RUN FACTORY
RUSSIA after the fall of the USSR state capitalist dictatorship that pretended to be communist has become a group of private capitalist kingdoms run by a series of Mafia thugs where extreme fascist parties flourish and the ordinary people get poorer by the day. The workers and the poor are suffering under an International Monetary Fund plan that slashes social funding while giving the exploiters a free hand. Even people with jobs don’t get paid for months on end.
Last year, massive strikes, lead by miners, virtually shut down the entire country. Another rose among the thorns is the revival of the libertarian socialist (anarchist) movement and the tradition of true soviets (workers’ councils) which the Bolsheviks believed they had crushed forever in 1921. But the Russian secret police, the FSB, heirs to the feared KGB, have been cracking down on anarchist activists in Moscow and Krasnodar, jailing Russian nationals and deporting foreigners. The FSB are acting on the orders of the ultra-right regional governor, whose party has been conducting a racist smear campaign against Jewish residents. In Yasnogorsk, a town near Moscow, 4 200 workers in a machine-building plant are engaged in a battle against the old Communist Party municipality which wants to control the factory and the new capitalist state government which wants to privatise it.
In 1990, the workers gained the majority of shares in the factory and last September, the worker/shareholders dismissed all the factory bosses at a general meeting. The bosses resisted, but were booted out by the Workers’ Collective Soviet, a committee of unpaid worker delegates.
In an attempt to break workers’ control, the authorities froze the factory’s bank accounts and in October, imprisoned two worker delegates, so in December, 10 000 people blocked the railway line to Moscow in protest. Special police forces intervened, but the delegates were freed. Then on February 22, the police goons were sent in again to try and install a court-appointed plant director, but he has been told to take a hike. The workers have not been paid for 10 months, but they are still running the factory, selling and bartering its products, and distributing money and food to the poor. With the help of sympathetic trade unions and other groups like KRAS, an anarcho-syndicalist organisation which is a member of the International Workers Association (IWA), they are keeping the whole town alive.
So don’t let anyone tell you that workers’ control is a childish dream. It is not only happening right now, but it shows the way forward for the entire working class. Bosses are an unnecessary expense. All we need is our minds, our muscles and our solidarity!
KOREAN WORKERS STOP RETRENCHMENTS THROUGH MASS STRIKE
In July 1998, bosses at the Hyundai Motors plant in the town of Ulsan gave notice that were going to retrench 1600 workers. Workers were so angry that the bosses closed the factory on the 20 July to prevent strike action. But 10,000 Korean workers arrived to surround the factory.
The protest action turned into a MASS FACTORY OCCUPATION by 5,000 workers and their families, which lasted throughout August. Despite the presence of 1,500 riot police, the workers stood fast. By the end of August, the bosses withdrew the retrenchment threat. The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions pointed to the moral of the story: “The fight by the labour unions is the only way to defer mass redundancies”. Economic problems in South Korea mean that up to 8,000 workers were being laid off each day in the middle of 1998. Demands by the International Monetary Fund that government promotes flexibility and cut spending in return for a loan, make matters worse.